Once, when my daughter’s class was studying economics, I had the opportunity to visit her class and teach a section on labor economics. I brought with me pictures of people doing various jobs, from artists to a police officer, and asked the students a list of questions about them and the jobs. I asked them what skills and/or training would be needed to perform the job, and I asked them if the job was dangerous. It was this last question that resulted in some interesting answers, and gave me insight into the minds of the children. Too young to remember Challenger or Dale Earnhardt, they said that the jobs of astronaut and race car drivers were rather safe jobs, while they thought that being an artist could be dangerous, since one could poke an eye out with a paint brush. However, it was their thoughts on being a teacher that struck me the most. They said that being a teacher could be dangerous, since a desk or book case could fall on the teacher. Of course, I consider teaching to be a rather safe and pleasant occupation, although I found myself thinking of this on Monday as I found myself worrying about the child of a colleague who attends Chardon High School, only minutes from where I live and work.
As I rolled into work on Monday, I was greeted by a friend from the Chemistry department rushing out of the building. She frantically told me that there had been a shooting at her daughter’s school. She said that five students had been shot, that she was off to see if her daughter was ok, and to please pass the word on to her department chair. She was off before I could give her a hug, but the scene haunted me all day as more bits of information became available and the story grew more horrible. My daughter’s friend, who sings in a children’s choir at our parish, called her to tell her there would be a prayer service that evening to support the people of Chardon, which is home to our “sister parish.” However, instead of attending the service, when I picked up my daughter, I greeted her with “let’s go out for dinner- you can pick the place” and an unusually big hug. I knew that there were parents who could not greet their children in such a manner that night.
Chardon can be found at the intersection of two main roads. It is known for snow and maple syrup. Just over the county line, it is the kind of place that one goes to on sunny summer Sundays to breathe in the country air and stroll around the shops that frame the town square, ducking into one occasionally to look for antiques and collectables. It is a small town, where everyone knows everyone, and those lucky enough to not be affected by the events of this week are sure to know someone who was. It looks like something from a Norman Rockwell painting, with a flag flying in the middle of the town square, surrounded by buildings that were probably built when my grandmother was born. Quaint and protected, it is the last place on Earth that one would expect such a tragedy.
As the week unfolded, information began to be shared. The daughter of our Chemistry professor was fine, but was part of a brave group of math students who pulled a student who had been shot into their classroom to keep him safe until help could arrive. Although injured, he will live. Unfortunately, the same is not true for three of his classmates.
One of my colleagues in Biology told of how her son, home from school when the entire system was closed down, spent the time communicating with friends via social media as his parents watched the story unfold on CNN. Meanwhile, the little girl next door sent him a hand-made card. "I am glad you are alive" it said.
The newspaper and news stations showed scenes of teenagers clutching lit candles as they sang together at memorial vigils. One beloved priest led a school filled with shaken Catholic School children in verses of “Lean on Me” after morning prayers the next day. Another priest urged his listeners to try to do what seemed to be unthinkable- forgive. The event reminded us of what matters in life, and of what does not. I kept thinking that these students should be making plans to go to their prom, not to go to the funerals of classmates.
There was once a little girl who believed her parents when we told her that there were no real monsters in her life. I support her as she ventures out into the world, knowing that she will make it a better place. I just wish I could make sure that she always finds her way home safely.